Dec 01, 1997
Pre-eclampsia is a serious problem complicating pregnancy, particularly in the second trimester. It is a major reason for prenatal care since it can cause serious illness and even death of the mother as well as premature birth and disorders of the infant.
Pre-eclampsia can develop without warning. It’s symptoms are dangerously high blood pressure and protein in the urine. If it is not treated promptly it can progress to eclampsia which is characterized by convulsions, kidney failure and can cause death. Early recognition and treatment of pre-eclampsia is essential to prevent eclampsia and protect the life of the mother and the fetus. A study reported in the April 1997 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation by Dr. Susan Fisher and colleagues at the University of California in San Francisco, provides important information about the biology of pre-eclampsia. The study demonstrates that pre-eclampsia is the result of a defect in the placenta, the critical interface between the mother and fetus. It is caused by a failure of cells of the placenta to invade the uterus wall deeply enough to permit the necessary exchange of blood and blood constituents between the mother and the fetus.
At this time there are still no effective methods for preventing pre-eclampsia. Risk factors include a genetic component, pregnancy with twins, pre-existing high blood pressure, diabetes and having had pre-eclampsia previously. It occurs most frequently during first pregnancies and in women under age 20 or over age 35.
The occurrence of cerebral palsy in infants whose mothers have pre-eclampsia is lower than in the general population of pregnancies. The reason(s) is unknown but may be related to the effect of the treatment of the pre-eclamptic mother (often includes magnesium sulfate).
Pre-eclampsia is one of the most serious problems of pregnancy. It must be diagnosed promptly and treated in order to prevent eclampsia. Now that the biology of pre-eclampsia is becoming more clear, the development of an early test and treatment of the cause rather than the effects is closer at hand.
© UCP Research & Educational Foundation, December 1997